Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Outside it's Only 17...

The low overnight, that is.

Days have been sunny, windy, and cold, in the low to mid 30s. It's cold for sitting on the ground and planting peas, anyway.

These plants in my kitchen encourage me, as does the sunshine.

There are signs outdoors as well...

That's our garlic, poking up happily through the straw. It's been a really long winter. But spring and summer are on the way.

Remain encouraged!

Back to planting peas...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Make Your Own Yogurt - "It's Better Than Marshmallow Cream, Mom!"

As promised, I am posting my yogurt recipe today. Right off the bat, I'd like to say it helps tremendously to have an oven that can be set to low temperatures, specifically 115 degrees Fahrenheit. I incubate my yogurt in the oven for seven hours at 115F. This is not to say that you can't incubate it in a food dehydrator, a cooler with warm water and towels, or in some other creative way you might come up with. People do that, too, and it works just fine. I'm just posting the easiest way, and the way I use all the time.

First off, here's the recipe:

Suzanne's Better-Than-Marshmallow-Cream Vanilla Yogurt

1 gallon of the best milk you can get

2 TBSP gelatin (that's two little pouches)

1/2 cup cold water

1 and 1/2 cups dehydrated cane juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup yogurt with active culture (can be your old batch)

Alright... let's get started.

First, dissolve the gelatin in the cold water.

This is just regular, unflavored gelatin and plain, cold water, in my case, well water.

If you are vegetarian and don't want to use gelatin, you can skip this step. I just find the gelatin helps the yogurt achieve the consistency we like in our house, so I use it. You can replace it with agar, if you like, but the yogurt doesn't turn out quite as smooth.

Preheat oven to 115 degrees F.

Have your sink ready and waiting with cold water.

Also, have your containers ready. I use five 1-quart mason jars, very clean, and their lids. I always wash them really well, in very hot water, then keep them on a tray, filled with hot water. As you can see, I've devoted some of my older canning jars with chipped rims to making yogurt. That's why they are marked with bright, nail polish "Ys."

I keep the lids in the hot water, too.

There are some people who insist that you have to have everything sterilized for making yogurt. I just make sure to have everything super clean. I also keep the equipment very warm until I use it. Now, if this process doesn't work for you, don't blame it on me! As with anything else, this is a trial and error process. Sometimes the yogurt doesn't set up, for example. That has happened to me just a few times in the four years I've been preparing this recipe. I just keep it in the back of the fridge and use it in recipes calling for buttermilk. No waste. But I've never had any spoiling issues. If you are the type of person who worries about those kinds of details, then by all means, sterilize your jars first.

Now that I have that little disclaimer out of the way, let's move on. Put the milk in a heavy-bottomed stock pot and heat it slowly to 185 degrees F. Whisk it occasionally to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot.

Use whatever thermometer you have in your kitchen to watch the temperature of the milk.

I'm kind of kooky, I'll admit it right here and now. Why? Because I have several thermometers that I've obtained from thrift stores or garage sales. I'm not sure which one is the most accurate, so I put all three on the edge of the pot and compare and take averages until I'm satisfied that the temperature reaches 185 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turn off the heat and add the sweetener. I use organic dehydrated cane, but you can use whatever sweetener you prefer. I've tried honey and maple syrup and sucanat. I once even used regular sugar (Gasp!) when I didn't have any healthy alternatives on hand. They all work. I just prefer the dehydrated cane. And you can vary the amount as you prepare this recipe to hone it to your own tastes.

As an aside, let me say that I take every opportunity I can to employ vintage stuff in my kitchen. For example, this lovely bowl, obtained for less than a dollar while thrifting:

Sigh... I love pyrex.

While we're on the subject of thrifting, I like to use more than pyrex... check out this tray, obtained for a mere quarter last fall, while garage-sale-ing in Amish country:

Wow, what a beauty! All my hot jars are waiting for me on that tray. Now, back to work...
Add vanilla:

and the gelatin mixture.

Stir well, with a whisk.

Place the pan in the sink of cold water. Cool the mixture, while stirring occasionally, to 110 to 115 degrees F.

Pour off one cup of the mixture and mix in 1 cup of yogurt.

Blend these together (I shake them up in a jar)

then add back to the pot and whisk again.

Finally, pour into jars:

wipe the rims with a clean, damp paper towel, screw the lids on

and place in the preheated oven for 7 hours.

I use a post-it note on the outside of my oven, to remind me to take the yogurt out. It also reminds me NOT to preheat the oven for some other project later in the day. I've done that before. Those jars are kind of outta-sight-outta-mind during day. "Oh, I think I'll make cornbread to go with dinner! I'll preheat the oven to 375..." You get the picture. What a mess that would be!

You can begin to taste the yogurt after 5 hours to see if it is firm enough, or tart enough. I, personally, have found that 7 hours is the trick for my family. Eight hours definitely produces a tarter yogurt, and any earlier than 7 hours, the texture isn't firm enough.

My recipe makes about 4 or 5 quarts of yogurt. This variable has to do with whether or not there is any cream in the house. Sometimes I have half-and-half or cream in the fridge. Rarely, but sometimes. I occasionally add some to the milk mixture to make the yogurt almost sinful. It even develops a tiny bit of cream on top, like those super fancy brands in the store.

You can easily halve this recipe if it makes too much for your family.

To make plain yogurt, just omit the sweetener and vanilla.

It keeps three or four weeks in the fridge, but never lasts that long.

And that, my friends, is my yogurt recipe. Please let me know if you try it, and how it turns out for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

I Did It -or- Remember That Chair?

I have to say, back when I posted about my knitaholicism (in hindsight, I think that really should be knitaholism), I didn't believe I would finish these items that quickly, but guess what? I did! Well, mostly, anyway. Remember the tea cozy? I had yarn, needles, and pattern gathered for that project, but never even cast on. I have decided to put that on the back burner for the time being. Instead of the cozy, I snuck in another pilot cap, in chocolate brown cotton, to match the baby kimono. A very nice set, which you may already have seen in this post. Plus I've got another pilot cap in cream colored wool on the needles right now. Ummm.... and another towel! Okay, maybe I really have a problem here...

Anyway, just to remind you of what my chair looked like ten days ago:

And here's the after picture:

See what another ten days will do?

I have many other projects in mind but really am determined to finish Mary's sweater. It will be my "thinking" knitting, while the towels and pilot caps can remain mindless, reading-out-loud-to-the-boys, tv-watching, waiting-at-chorus-or-jujitsu, car-riding knitting.

Just wanted to share! Thanks for looking!